The Problem of Pain

UG Winter River Birch

Year after year, I keep going back to The Problem of Pain C.S. Lewis.

I’m a self-described Lewis junkie so it isn’t really a surprise that I continually am reading his books, but this one I feel particularly drawn too. I’m going through a horrendous flare up of my fibromyalgia so I think I’ve been especially drawn to the concept of pain right now.

The fibro has been a part of my life from such an early age that I began to contemplate things in an uncommon way. It has been deeply personal and painful as I’ve wrestled with it. I realized that there are two questions in the problem of pain. The first “why” is the personal one in which a person is seeking comfort and relief; they look for meaning. The second “why” is philosophical.

Don’t get the two “whys” mixed up when someone asks. The difference in the answers is profound.

When I was first diagnosed, I wanted hope when I was asking the first “why”. Otherwise, it all seemed so… Unfair. Depressing. Hopeless.

When people tried to give me the answer to the second question, it just amplified those feelings. And made me feel alone.

I think that is reason I love how Lewis outlines our problem with pain as being a barrier to people coming to know God because if God is good, how can He let this happen? Is He actually in control? It is easy to feel that He may not be; I’ve been there, but God placed some precious people in my life at the precise moments I needed them. His grace was astounding. It became clear that I wasn’t alone.

The beautiful truth of this is ugly pain is that it keeps me entirely dependent on God. If I didn’t have this pain, I’m sure I would fall into believing the lie that I don’t need Him, for indeed, my physical state is just a reflection of my spiritual one. It’s funny that is easy to forget God when life is pleasant; we even forget to thank Him for how good it is at times. If God is the Hero, then He is in both the good times and the bad. We must accept Him during both.

When Paul says that “And we know that God causes all things work together for good to those who love God, those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28), we need to take him at his word. I’ve learned the key is “His purpose” though. God cares more about condition of our hearts than our happiness and comfort. If we are only seeking happiness and comfort, we aren’t seeking His will.

The truth is, we aren’t God, only He is and thus we cannot hold Him accountable for our suffering. Rather, we responsible for His suffering when He willingly gave His son, Jesus Christ up to the cross for the propitiation of our sins. Our sins were the cause; suffering was the effect.

Even though I don’t see God’s specific purposes for my pain, it is enough to know that He is working to some greater end than myself, and in that He will be glorified. I am entirely responsible for my reaction to this miserable pain. I can be angry that this is my path to tread, maybe deny that He is in control despite what scripture says, or draw near to Him and trust.  We can find peace in this, the answer to the second, philosophical “why”.

It’s really a reaction for or against God in its essence. It is my prayer that I choose the latter everyday.

If you get a chance, I’d highly recommend C.S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain. It is one of the books that has impacted me the most.

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